Some aircraft are uninspiring to look at, and others simply scream out "Fly me!". One of the latter is an assembly of pipework called a Breezy. Well named...
(This image of the Breezy is the closest to the one I flew at King City and has appeared uncredited on a number of websites. I have tried to find out the owner but failed, so if anyone knows to whom it belongs, please let me know.)
I had gone over to Toronto to attend the wedding of a college friend and to act (that's the word!) as best man. I had taken my flying gear just in case, and took a day off from memorising my speech to go to a small airport called King City, which was then located some way north of Toronto.
I found an outfit which had some aircraft for hire and introduced myself. The CFI was a cheerful bod called Pat who, with his lengthy hair, bore a vague resemblance to the young Andre Previn. We had a chat about the status of my license (to cut a long story short, I had to retake my Air Law exam - which I did) and the kind of things I wanted to do while I was there. They had a Citabria, and a few other machines, all of which sounded good, but it was only when we walked outside for a tour of the facilities that my eyes fell on what appeared to be a gate guardian for a children's playground, built by one of those eccentric artists who wield a welding torch for a living. I turned to Pat.
"Pat, what on earth is that?"
He gave me a huge grin.
"It's a Breezy; you wanna fly it?"
The answer just had to be yes; and right now if that would not be too inconvenient. It was not, so I returned to my car and pulled out my flying gear while Pat checked out the state of the fuel tank.
"You got any tailwheel time, Dave?" asked Pat as he checked the oil level.
"Um, yes, a reasonable number of hours. Why?"
"Oh, it's just that we find that people with tailwheel time are a bit less worried about sitting in the open air."
Yes, I could understand that. The Breezy was designed in the mid-1960s and was clearly intended for fun flying in a warm climate, but not everyone would feel secure perched on the girderwork. The pilot sits at the front of the assemblage with just an ASI and an altimeter between his feet to remind him that he is in an aircraft and not sitting on a magic carpet. This was Canada in early October, but not too cool a day, so Pat was quite amused to see me struggling into my flying suit, jacket, and helmet etc. He just put on a jacket. I thought I had better check on a few points.
"What's the take-off speed?"
"And what's the climb speed?"
"Do I need to ask for the approach speed?"
"Not if you've been listening..."
We then sat on the machine; me in front with a real control column, and Pat in the rear seat with a bit of broken broom handle stuck in the socket just in case I threw a wobbler. We started up the engine and taxied out. The Breezy had its front wheel linked directly to the rudder pedals, and steering was easy, if a trifle sensitive. But, luxury of luxuries - it had toe brakes! I motored the winged go-cart out onto the runway and a thump on the shoulder from Pat indicated I should take off. I was reminded of a chat I had had with a WWI flyer who had trained on a Bristol Boxkite. When the instructor, who sat behind, wanted to communicate he would thump the trainee on the shoulder with a broomstick. Well, Pat also had the technology...
I advanced the throttle lever, which appeared to be made from an old car accelerator pedal, and we scooted off down the runway. Steering had to be delicate to avoid weaving all over the place, and as the ASI reached sixty I carefully pulled back on the control column. The Breezy left the ground readily and a few seconds later I was settled into a brisk climb. Looking ahead, all I saw was Ontario - I had to turn my head to establish that there really was an aircraft following me close behind.
Pat signalled a few trial turns to the left and to the right and the machine answered nicely. On one turn I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see Pat flapping his arms like some huge demented albatross. Yes, I thought, the Breezy gets you that way; this was truly FUN flying. After it was apparent to both of us that the Breezy was in (relatively) safe hands we returned to the airfield and I made a respectable landing. After taxying back to the parking lot I cut the engine and just sat there grinning like a Cheshire cat for a good minute.
I returned just a few days later with my newly-bestowed Canadian pilot permit [Permis de Pilote Prive (Touriste) - but they wrote it in English as well] and booked the Breezy for another flip. Pat suggested that I head for Holland Landings, a place that was most interesting when viewed from the air due to its agricultural strip patterns. So, climbing into my flying gear and, being a bit more grateful for the layers as it was quite cool that day, I set off.
Once airborne I headed off in the direction of Holland Landings. There was a brisk tailwind which bowled the Breezy and I along at a fair rate of knots. Once at my destination I had a fine few minutes carrying out steep turns over the landscape, and at one point I could have sworn that I saw Cary Grant running through the fields below. Then I began to feel a bit chilly, and wondered whether I should think about returning.
A minute later I realised I was not feeling chilly - I was beginning to feel very cold indeed. The flying gear could only protect for so long in a Canadian autumn with no cockpit to lurk in. (You had to be carrying a bit more blubber than I was in those days if you were going to withstand that kind of chill factor.) So, I turned back in the direction of King City. After another minute it dawned on me that the brisk tailwind that had whisked me along so swiftly on the way out was now a brisk headwind; I was crawling back, and it was going to take me substantially longer to return.
A few minutes later the shivers began to set in. Not the shiver that lasts just a few seconds before the body's central heating cuts back in, but a remorseless, non-stop, whole body shudder that was beginning to affect the way I was controlling the aircraft. A few minutes later the central heating system seemed to have broken down and I was seriously considering putting the machine down on the ground just as soon as I could as the alternative was the serious possibility of losing control. Just as I was about to decide that was the best option, the airfield began to grow quickly in my vision. I decided I could just about hang on.
The approach and landing were not particularly tidy as my arms and legs would not stay still. But once the Breezy was down it stayed down, and now I was on the deck again I was beginning to warm up a little. I was able to taxi back to the parking spot where I cut the engine and just sat there, waiting for my body to show signs of life before heading back into the office.
A passing mechanic saw me sitting hunched up in the pilot's seat and cheerfully called over:
"Hey, buddy, what happened to your CF100?"
As people often say after a dodgy episode in their life, I learned a bit from that:
Lesson One: If you ever get a chance to fly in one of these amazing machines then take it!
Lesson Two: Ignore any catcalls and wrap up as warmly as necessary...